Sunday, December 9, 2018

Meanwhile, at home, in our own garden...

After being gone for almost two weeks (first for Thanksgiving, then on my trip to Southern California), it seemed like I hadn't spent any time in the garden in quite a while.

We don't usually get much fall color, but the Chinese pistache in the backyard is putting on a good show this year:


I still wish we had actually gotten the male tree we'd ordered (female Chinese pistache are much messier and don't have as much color in the fall), but it's 20 years too late to complain.

2018 post-Thanksgiving road trip to Southern California

Here are all the posts from my 2018 post-Thanksgiving road trip to Southern California (November 26 to December 1, 2018):

Detailed posts to follow about the Huntington Desert Garden, my visits with Andy Siekkinen (Rancho Santa Ana Botanical Garden) und Jeff Moore (Solana Succulents), my friend Deana's garden in Carpinteria/Santa Barbara, and much more.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Southern California road trip, day 6

Day 6, the last day of my Southern California road trip, arrived all too quickly. I had spent the night in the Central California university town of San Luis Obispo, home of California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly). I've always had a soft spot for SLO and can actually see myself living there some day. Gardening in such a gentle climate has got to be dreamy!

My first stop was the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden, a non-profit endeavor I'd discovered in April 2016. In my post about that visit, I mentioned their ambitious expansion plans for the future. Unfortunately, raising the funds for such a big project is a difficult and slow process, and I didn't see any visible progress on this visit.

Still, the 2½-acre preview garden is a nice medley of plants from the various Mediterranean climate regions around the world. Here are some examples:

Aloe ferox against California buckeye (Aesculus californica)

Monday, December 3, 2018

Southern California road trip, day 5

Day 5 began with breakfast at Esau's Café in Carpinteria ("World Famous since 1939"), just a couple of blocks from the beach. Joining me were my friend Deana and her husband Robert; Deana has lived in the Santa Barbara area for 30+ years and knows everything there is to know.

Imagine gardening in a virtually frost-free climate where 85°F is considered a hot day! The lack of water, however, is a worry that's never far from residents' minds. That's one reason why Deana is such a fan of succulents. Most of them thrive in the mild coastal climate. The only exception are cacti native to extremely hot desert environments; Santa Barbara simply doesn't get caliente enough for them.

After breakfast, I had the opportunity to check out the progress in Deana's garden. As you can see, the front yard is dominated by a massive Agave americana, one of the nicest forms I've seen:


Like all Agave americana, it does offset, but Deana is diligent about removing the pups. She wants a solitary specimen, not an impenetrable tangle.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Southern California road trip, day 4

Day 4 of my ATSCRT (After-Thanksgiving Southern California Road Trip) started with a visit to Australian Native Plants in Casitas Springs, less than 10 miles northeast of Ventura where I had spent the night. The nursery is owned and operated by Jo O'Connell and her husband Byron Cox. Jo is a tour de force in the plant world. Through patience, perseverance and lots of hard work, she and Byron have built a one-of-a-kind niche business that now offers the largest selection of Australian plants in the U.S.


I first met Jo in 2016 at a presentation she gave at the UC Berkeley Botanical Garden and had been wanting to visit her nursery ever since. 

Since Australian Native Plants is not a regular retail nursery with set hours, I'd contacted Jo ahead of time to make sure she was around on Thursday. Jo and Byron own three adjacent lots so there's plenty of space for the greenhouses and growing areas. The back entrance to the nursery is right across from a church so it was easy to find.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Southern California road trip, day 3

Day 3 of my after-Thanksgiving Southern California road trip began with a visit to Rancho Vista Nursery, a large wholesale grower in Vista in northern San Diego County. They have been in operation for 40 years and grow over 500 species of succulents and cacti on 10 acres (6 acres of greenhouses and 4 acres of outdoor growing space). 

Ryan Penn, the former horticulturist at the Ruth Bancroft Garden, recently started working at Rancho Vista as their new nursery manager. He showed me around and told me a little about the business. Because of its mild climate and year-round growing season, northern San Diego County has more wholesale succulent growers than any other area in the country. For example, many cacti sold in Arizona nurseries actually come from here. In addition, I was surprised to find out that common succulents like aloe vera (Aloe barbadensis) and the humble jade plant (Crassula ovata) are among the biggest sellers.

Countless in-ground specimens of silver torch cactus (Cleistocacactus strausii) waiting to be dug up 

Southern California road trip, day 2

My good intentions of posting a daily update from my Southern California road trip didn't quite translate into reality. Sometimes a full day of taking in new sights, talking to fellow plant nerds, as well as driving—the one constant—can be more tiring than I initially realize.

So, a day late, here are some photos and observations from Tuesday, day 2.

Day 2 started with a visit to the Theodore Payne Foundation in Sun Valley, northeast of Burbank. Los Angeles nurseryman Theodore Payne (1872-1963) is considered to be the father of the native plant movement in California. The Foundation owns 22 acres of canyon land, featuring walking trails (the wildflower trail is said to be spectacular in the spring), a couple of demonstration gardens, and arguable one of the best California native plant nurseries in the state. At the end of a long, dry summer the native vegetation wasn't at its prettiest (that's just how it is), but the nursery lived up to my expectations. I'd made a shopping list ahead of time and found everything I was looking for, mostly garden-tolerant manzanitas and a couple of white-flowering, cold-hardy ceanothus for my mother-in-law's garden.

Andy Siekkinen with some of his plants in the greenhouse at Rancho Santa Ana Botanical Garden/Claremont Graduate University

Stop #2 was Rancho Santa Ana Botanical Garden in Claremont (Theodore Payne helped establish it in 1926 in a different location and he was still active when it moved to its present site in 1951). Attached to the campus of Claremont Graduate University, it houses CGU's botany department.

I met up with Andy Siekkinen, one of the world's leading experts on hechtias and a walking and talking reference library on terrestrial bromeliads. Andy is doing groundbreaking research on hechtias that I'm sure will bring new order into a poorly studied and taxonomically confused genus. He's also a passionate grower of hechtias and other terrestrial bromeliads, and he generously took time out of his busy day to show me his plants in the greenhouses. I was amazed by the sheer quantity, but he said it's only a small part of his collection; most of it is at his house in San Diego.

Andy has the rare gift of being able to explain complex scientific matters in terms that non-scientists like me can understand, and he does so with an enthusiasm that is electric and infectious. In addition, he's just a nice guy who doesn't make you feel like an idiot if you miss something. My visit with him was the highlight of my trip so far.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Southern California, here I am again...

I've been overworked and overstressed for far too long, so I'm taking a much needed break. There's nothing better for me to relax than go on a 1000+ mile road trip in 6 days. Crazy, I know.

I left on Monday morning with a full tank of gas and the navigation system set for Huntington Botanical Gardens in San Marino/Pasadena.


Day 2 will be Theodore Payne Foundation, Rancho Santa Ana Botanical Gardens, and on to Oceanside in San Diego County. I'll spend day 3 visiting succulent friends in northern San Diego County, and then on to Ventura. Day 4 will be Taft Gardens in Ojai and a visit to Jo O'Connell's Australian Native Plants Nursery in nearby Casita Springs. Day 4 I'll spent in Santa Barbara visiting my friend Deana, and on day 5 I'll swing by Las Pilitas Nursery near San Luis Obispo. Throw in a predicted 1 to 1.5 inches of rain in a couple of days, and it should be quite an adventure!

Thursday, November 22, 2018

A love letter to color, life, and tequila: the Austin, TX garden of Lucinda Hutson

Love at first sight is real, folks. One look at Lucinda Hutson's little purple house was all it took, and I was a goner. 

It happened in early May at the 2018 Garden Bloggers Fling in Austin, Texas. Thanks to Lucinda, the color purple will forever be linked in my mind with her Casita Morada, her jewel box of a house built in the 1930s.


Lucinda Hutson is not just a color picker extraordinaire, she's a passionate gardener, cookbook and lifestyle writer, and expert on spirits made from the humble agave: pulque, mescal, and above all tequila.

Lucinda was born and raised in El Paso, Texas. She learned Spanish at an early age and, as a teen, frequently hung out in Juárez, El Paso's sibling on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande. 

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Jacarandas, succulents and a selfie: Sepulveda Garden Center

The smoke from the hellish Case Fire in Paradise, about 90 miles north of here, has been making our air hard to breathe all week. But that's a minor annoyance compared to what those in the middle of it are going through. The flames got to within a few hundred yards of my brother-in-law's property outside of Chico, but fortunately they were spared. So many haven't been. The loss of life in Paradise has stunned Northern California and, with many hundreds still left unaccounted for, will only go up. The destruction of virtually an entire town is simply unfathomable. My thoughts continue to be with the thousands of people affected by this catastrophic wildfire.


To counteract all the ugliness, I want to show you some beauty I found in Southern California in early June. We spent the first night of our trip in in Sherman Oaks, and as I was futzing around on Facebook, I noticed that the Los Angeles Cactus and Succulent Society was going to have its 2018 Drought Tolerant Plant Festival the following day at a place called Sepulveda Garden Center in Encino. I'm not very familiar with the San Fernando Valley, and I had no idea where Encino was relative to our location. Imagine my surprise when Google Maps told me that the Sepulvedea Garden Center was less than two miles from our motel! What's better than the gift of serendipity?